Our first stop in China was Shanghai. The only thing I knew about this city was the panoramic Bund. We decided to kick off our Shanghai trip with a bike tour. We loved the bike tour that we did in Bangkok. This time we booked a morning bike tour with Shanghai Culture Shock Bike Tours. Around 8.30 am we reported at the luxurious Hyatt-Andaz hotel in Xintiandi which was the meeting point for the tour. We were offered a free cup of coffee and a croissant. A perfect start! Our co-bikers were a New Zealand-Danish couple who had lived in Shanghai for a couple of years but hadn’t properly explored it yet. After a short introduction, we all got on our bikes and headed into Shanghai’s morning traffic.
- Looking for a place to stay in Shanghai? Check out this overview of hotels and hostels in Shanghai.
French Concession, a good start of our Shanghai bike tour
The first part of the bike tour took us through the streets of Xintiandi, part of the French Concession. This area looks like a small piece of Europe in Chinese Shanghai. It has broad avenues, a lot of green trees and you see tiny boutique shops everywhere. It’s a very un-Chinese neighborhood. And until a century ago Chinese people weren’t even allowed in this area. This was the residential area of the French colonists. They built European-style houses and several churches. During our tour, we visited one of these churches. It was a former Russian-orthodox church of a local Belarusian community. They fled to China during the October Revolution in 1917 in Russia. Unfortunately, the church is slowly decaying. A couple of restaurants tried to make a new start here, but sadly they failed.
Hipster area French Concession
French Concession is a trendy place. During our tour, we saw a lot of expensive cars, European expats and fancy bars where you pay at least 10 euros for one beer (seriously! We ordered one by mistake). But this is not the only thing you’ll see in the French Concession. In the streets behind busy Huaihai Road, there’s still a lot of old Shanghai left. Here you can find houses that are built in the traditional Shikumen style, or should I say, renovated in the Shikumen style. Most Shikumen houses are demolished by the government to make space for the skyscrapers. Some are saved and restored in the original style with the typical dark grey stones and the stone arches above the doors. You can also find a lot of renovated Shikumen houses in the nearby area of Tianzifang.
A Wushu lesson in Fuxing Park
From the busy streets of Xintiandi, we cycled to Fuxing Park. A neat little park with a lot of rose fields. They were a beautiful sight, but not the reason why we came to this park. In the morning Chinese parks are actively used by the elderly to play all sorts of games, sports, and other activities. And they come here early, very early. Between six and eight it’s packed with people playing badminton and dancing around. Sadly, we arrived in Fuxing Park at 10 am so we had missed this morning ritual. Our guide took this opportunity to teach us a couple of Wushu techniques. A type of martial arts he had practiced when he was little. I would describe it as a combination of kung-fu and yoga. Both sports I had zero experience with. Still, I think I managed it, though the passing locals probably thought otherwise.
Trying fried youtiaos
After our sports lesson, it was time for a second breakfast. Our guide ordered youtiao (fried breadsticks) and da bing (flat round bread stuffed with herbs). The whole thing was accompanied by bowls of warm soy milk to dip everything in. Maybe not the most healthy dishes, but still delicious.
“Ni Hao!” in the lilongs
With a full stomach, we got back on our bikes and cycled to the lilongs. These are the old traditional neighborhoods of Shanghai that consist of a maze of narrow crooked lanes. Life takes place on the streets here, simply because the houses don’t offer that much space. Cleaning the vegetables, doing laundry, catching up with friends, playing games, it’s all on the street. You would think the locals wouldn’t appreciate a couple of nosy tourists cycling through their neighborhood. But exactly the opposite was true. The locals greeted us with smiles and a happy ‘Ni Hao!’ like we have been cycling through this area for years. Unfortunately, the lilongs are slowly disappearing because the government wants to build more skyscrapers. Also, young people rather choose to live in an apartment than in a lilong house.
Burning incense in a Taoist temple
We ended our tour at one of the many Taoist temples of Shanghai. Taoism is an important religion in China. One of the pillars is that nothing can exist without an antipole. There is always a Yin and a Yang. Inside the temple our guide showed us how Chinese burn incense, bow four times into each wind direction and pray to follow the right path of life (path = tao). A ritual I was going to see a lot during my time in China.
Highly recommended: booking a shanghai bike tour
After the temple visit, we circled back to the Hyatt hotel where we turned in our bikes. The morning was over but it almost felt like we spent the whole day cycling. We visited so many sights and experienced so many new things. For instance, we also cycled through a wet market and we visited a second temple. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of this. However, this bike tour was definitely something I wouldn’t want to miss. It was a perfect start to our trip to Shanghai.
- Want to know what other bike tours you can book in Shanghai? Check out this overview of bike tours in Shanghai.
What’s your favourite way of exploring a new city? On a bike or something else?
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